Chiming In On The Negative Reviews Issue

Just when you thought that perhaps authors were learning to be graceful about negative reviews, this happened.  I’m stunned.  One would think a NYT best-selling author would know far better than to behave poorly on social media.  One would hope a personal assistant would know the business better, too.

I’ve been speaking to others in my circle lately about the pitfalls of social media and how easily connections are forged now in the internet-driven world.  I can recall several instances of celebrities whose work I no longer partake in due to their personal behaviour online (singers, actors and even a best-selling author I once held in high esteem – not the one above, by the way).  While social media can be a beautiful thing, particularly for indie authors such as myself, one must never lose site of a very important fact:

You cannot be yourself on social media when networking for your creations.  You must be “all business” in the sense that you must keep your temper in check, be polite and professional and remember that people are watching.

Authors, bloggers:  negative reviews happen.  They come with the territory.  Good bloggers and reviewers – the ones who do so out of love for the written word and wanting to help authors and readers alike – don’t like to hand out a negative review.  They want to enjoy your work.  If they don’t enjoy it, they want to help you improve it.  Authors:  negative reviews will happen, even if your book is the second coming of To Kill A Mockingbird or the like.  Do not publish unless you are ready – truly ready – to let these roll off your back.

That said, how do we, as authors, handle negative reviews?  John Scalzi and many others do a grand job of explaining this, but I’ll chime in.  I’m a sensitive person; I’ve always struggled with fear of negative critiques in any aspect of my life.  It’s why I hesitated for years to publish:  I wanted to learn that skill of walking away and letting go.  Writers, I get it.  It hurts when someone slags you.  It hurts when someone makes a comment akin to using your book as toilet paper.  It even hurts when someone very nicely says that your book did nothing for him or her.

It’s okay to be bothered.  It’s okay to be angry at ad hominem attacks.  Embrace your emotions, consult with trustworthy friends, but do it in private.  Remember the business metaphor:  the customer is always right, even if you think he’s dead wrong.  Move on, quietly.

Here are my suggestions for how to handle negative reviews of all shapes, sizes and venom quotas:

  1. Walk away.  Do not respond.  Do not even think of any sort of action, private or public, until all of the initial emotion has dissipated.
  2. Have a trusted person read the review over and offer their thoughts.  Be willing to hear that said person agrees with a constructive criticism within the review.  It’s always nice to get the perspective of someone not emotionally invested in your work.  Is the review really bad, or just not what you’d hoped?
  3. Constructive, critical reviews:  once you’ve simmered down, examine the information offered and assess it.  Are there valid points that could help you improve a future work?  Is the reaction indicative that you’re targeting the wrong audience?  Is it simply an opinion, one with which you differ?  Sort comments into these three piles and move on.  Improve your next book; change your marketing; do nothing and shrug.
  4. Attack reviews:  I cannot stress it enough.  WALK AWAY.  It’s not worth it.  Good readers – the kind that love literature – will recognize an attack when they see it and likely dismiss the review, even if it’s loaded with clever GIF images.  If something libelous is said, e.g. “This author molests goats!  I have proof!” or “This author stole their books from Y person”, hand it over to a lawyer and walk away.  Let the professionals do their thing.
  5. No matter what kind of review, do not respond to the reviewer.  Chances are, nothing you say, even in private, will benefit you.  Leave it as is.
  6. If you feel a factual error exists, or a faulty implication that is not libelous, you can choose to make a very general post that, in a roundabout way, corrects that misconception or faulty belief, lest a future reader wonder.  Even then, really consider how much it matters.  In 90% or more of cases, this is unnecessary.
  7. And since it apparently must be said, do not link to said reviews for your social media followers with a “wink wink” implication to attack.  You a) simply do not know who’s reading your feed – perhaps someone willing to make death threats? and b) look like a prat.  Remember:  your name is your brand.  Don’t blow it.  The internet remembers forever.

How do you handle negative reviews?  Have you witnessed authors or even reviewers behaving shamefully?  Drop a line in the comment box and let’s chat!

Published by A.C. Dillon

A.C. Dillon is an insomnia-driven Canadian author, who enjoys parlaying personal sleeplessness into keeping readers from their own slumber. When not sending a laptop into steaming fits of overworked rage, A.C. can be found listening to an obsessive music collection or watching Empire Records for the 338th time.

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